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Three Dead Following West Bank, Gaza Violence - 2001-09-29

At least three Palestinians were killed and dozens wounded in clashes with Israeli troops in the West Bank and Gaza Strip Saturday, and thousands of Palestinians took to the streets to show their support for their one-year-old uprising. The upsurge in violence further threatens a fragile truce agreed upon by both sides last Wednesday.

Saturday's clashes took place in several areas of the Gaza Strip, including near the Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom in central Gaza. Heavy fighting also took place in the West Bank town of Hebron, where Palestinians are reported to have fired a mortar round at a Jewish settlement.

Palestinian hospital officials say Israeli troops shot back at stone throwing youths. Israeli military officials say troops used tear gas and rubber-coated bullets against Palestinians throwing stones and firebombs.

Thousands of Palestinians also took to the streets across the West Bank and Gaza, including in Gaza city and Nablus, to mark the anniversary of the start of their uprising, or intifada. Some shouted "death to America" and hanged effigies of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

In Nablus, supporters of the radical Islamic group Hamas threatened to send more suicide bombers against Israeli targets. Similar demonstrations were also held Friday throughout the Palestinian territories, and there were clashes with Israeli troops. Six Palestinians were reported killed. Demonstrations in support of the intifada also took place Friday in capitals elsewhere in the Middle East.

Saturday's violence came just three days after Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat met in Gaza and agreed to re-affirm a cease-fire and take other confidence-building measures. Security officials from the two sides met on Friday.

The Palestinians promised to clamp down on attacks against Israeli military positions and settlements. The Israelis promised to ease their blockade of Palestinian-held areas, but a spokesman for Mr. Sharon is quoted as saying this would happen only in areas that are calm.

Numerous attempts to implement a truce over the past months have failed, but there were hopes this latest one might actually take hold. Both sides have come under increasing pressure to ease the crisis here as the United States tries to bring Arab and other Muslim nations into its worldwide coalition against terrorism.

Mr. Arafat declared a cease-fire within a week after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. But not everyone agrees with that. The radical Islamic groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Lebanese-based Hezbollah have rejected the cease-fire, and there seems to be disagreement even within Mr. Arafat's own Fatah movement.

Israelis and Palestinians continue to blame each other for not making the cease-fire stick. But, both sides have said a meeting of their security officials will go ahead as planned on Sunday.